Politics and the Political: Correlation and the Question of the Unpolitical
Inna Viriasova
University of Western Ontario

This essay discusses the underlying logic of the relation between the concepts of politics and the political, i.e., "political difference," specifically in Carl Schmitt's and Michel Foucault's works, as well as in the post-foundational thought of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou. It is suggested that the political, as the new common sense of critical political theory, is characterized by its correlation with the classical, state-oriented conception of politics. The essence of the political is a critique of politics, each concept (politics and the political) functioning primarily as the negative of the other. Politics and the political are involved in a never-ending relation of differentiation and play, which is at the heart of the concept of the political difference. However useful and innovative, the political is not devoid of problematic moments, in particular as it exhibits a tendency toward totalization. Since the political is presented as the ontological condition of politics and of being-together in general, it results in the exclusion of so-called unpolitical elements from the conceptual schema of post-foundational political thought. The present critique concludes in raising the question of the unpolitical and providing a brief account of the latter in the works of Schmitt, Foucault, Rancière and Badiou.

Within the general horizon of a return of the ontological in philosophy, dissatisfaction with politics, narrowly defined as the state and its institutions or, in Michel Foucault's words, as the "system of Law-and-Sovereign" (1990, 97), leads to a conceptual shift, first in Germany and then in France, toward the political -- an ontological dimension of undecidability and contingency, agonism and difference underlying political reality. Extending beyond the French context, the political has become an important conceptual tool for a variety of recent studies in political theory, which gradually transform the classical, rigid framework of political analysis into the more open and flexible horizon of the political. One can suggest that the concept of the political, as a critique of politics, has become the new common sense of contemporary political thought, and as such is itself in need of a critical examination. This essay is an attempt at such a meta-critique of the political, that is, an attempt at revealing the logic of the political as a critique of the state-oriented conception of politics, where the state is understood not only as an actual political institution but as an imposition of order. In other words, I argue that the concept of the political is always already correlated with the notion of politics, and that it therefore risks becoming no more than the inverse of the latter, that is, its negativity. Furthermore, because of such a correlation, theories of the political fail to effectively address the problem they themselves identify -- the problem of politics as totality. The relation of difference between politics and the political, "the political difference" (Marchart 2007), risks becoming a new "totality" -- overdetermining every position and mode of being, and purifying itself of all non-political elements.

Some further clarification of the concept of correlation is needed here [1]. Correlation should be understood as a particular kind of relation. While relation may refer to multidimensional and multidirectional connections, correlation implies the mutual dependence of two terms, and thus has an unbreakable circularity as its main principle. The relational nature of politics and the political is recognized by contemporary thinkers of the political. An excellent example of this is a work by Oliver Marchart (2007) dedicated to distilling and outlining the relational specificity of "the political difference" of post-foundational political thought. It is important to note that Marchart (as well as other thinkers discussed below) presents such relationality mainly in positive terms and does not address its correlative nature. As a result, this essay is an attempt at a critique not of relationality in general, but of the specific correlative quality of the conceptual relation between politics and the political and its consequences. To be more precise, the critique is directed at a circularity of political genesis, which also feeds into the problem of the political as totality. If the political emerges only at the moment of structural failure that in its turn necessitates a further attempt at ordering, i.e. politics, then these concepts are no more than negatives that endlessly replace each other without allowing for genuine excess or an outside.

I suggest that the correlation thesis applies to both classical and contemporary political theory. The major difference between the two is that even though the former acknowledges that disruptive or contingent elements are closely related to or even condition politics, it tends to repress the "memory" of such conditioning and cover the consequent silence with the fantasy of social unity expressed through the various social contract theories that ultimately form the ground of modern politics. Classical theory places emphasis on the side of a mutual reconciliation of human beings through the institution of political society, polis, the state or sovereign, the necessity of which is posited in opposition to the fears of contingent, asocial, apolitical reality. Contemporary political thought reverses the relationship between the two realities; it makes possible the return of the repressed of politics: now contingency and conflict are seen as pertaining to politics proper, that is, the political. Nevertheless, this position is affirmed not on its own terms, but as a critique of the state-oriented conception of politics. I suggest that both classical and contemporary political theory suffer from different intensities of correlation between politics and the political. That is, each term is defined by a certain degree of negation or repression of the other. However, even though correlation is present in both classical and contemporary political theories, one can observe a significant conceptual shift that occurs in the latter. What is now called the political, that disruptive, agonistic element, was formerly conceptualized as non-political, typically, as the state of nature. While classical politics used to be defined in opposition to what it is not, i.e., unpolitical reality, contemporary thought concerning the political is self-referential: it is centred around a split and a correlation between politics and the political or inauthentic and authentic politics. Unpolitical reality, or the excess inherent to the political difference, is excluded from the thought of the political, resulting in a totalization of the political, insofar as the latter is presented as the condition of being-together in general (prescribing a certain ontology).

Contemporary theoretical attempts to define and sketch the political present themselves as severe critiques and alternatives to classical political visions, especially liberal theories. I maintain that these contemporary theories are only partially successful because they fall into the same trap as their classical counterparts: they both repress elements that are seen as antithetical or negative to the "achievement" of their own vision of the political. In the case of classical political theory, the elements that act counter to social unity and identity are repressed, excluded or ignored. In the case of contemporary political thought, what is repressed, suppressed or ignored is the fact that it is primarily motivated by the pressure of an organizing principle, namely, the state. In order to show that this is the case I will first examine Thomas Hobbes' philosophy as an example of classical political thought; then I will turn to Carl Schmitt, Foucault and several trends within contemporary political theory that focus their attention on the political, including Freudian, Lacanian and post-foundational political thought. Such examination, of course, should not be regarded as an exhaustive account of each thinker's thought, but as a necessary reduction that will only allow me to point to the presence and theoretical consequences of the correlation at work. In conclusion, I will raise the question of the unpolitical and give a brief account of the latter in the works of Schmitt, Foucault, Rancière and Badiou.

Classical Political Theory: The Repression of Politics

Hobbes' Leviathan can be taken as an exemplary case of the classical, (proto)liberal conception of politics. Here the necessity of the institution of politics, in the form of sovereignty, results from the fear of "the state of nature," i.e., the disordered social. Hobbes tries to justify the transition to the political from this social by showing that it is not merely accidental, but that human nature and rationality demand it. The state of nature is the state of absolute, unlimited freedom, where one can do whatever one wants and is limited only by one's own, primarily physical, capacities. Everyone is endowed with a certain amount of "natural power" (ch. x, 2). In a sense, in the state of nature power circulates freely: it is not fixed in one place; it is a state of multiple contracts. However, this freedom leads to conflicts of interests, where the "rights" and desires of multiple individuals constantly intersect and, since there is no external power that could oversee social interactions and ensure observation of the contracts, lead to "the war of all against all" (ch. xiii, 8). Life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (ch. xiii, 9): it is a life of contingency and conflict, without a guarantee (guarantor) of not only personal security, but any kind of social meaning. According to Hobbes, every individual's main concern is the struggle for power and, most importantly, self-preservation in peace; as a result of a lack of security, the fear of death becomes the major motivation for the social contract between all (ch. xvii). The political state is established by persons who give up their freedom in the face of the fear of death and "confer" it, together with their power, to a sovereign in exchange for protection, which results in centralization and the accumulation of power in sovereign "hands" (ch. xvii, 13). The establishment of the state fixes and codifies, as law, the circulation and exercise of power, which becomes solely the right of the sovereign. Interestingly enough, the very possibility of such an agreement requires the use of language, which means that the state of nature is not asocial. Nevertheless, in order to justify the necessary transition to the state, Hobbes seems to suggest that the state of nature is both a-social and a-political -- in a sense that natural life is qualitatively different from the social life of the polis, that is, the good life. As a result of such a distinction, politics is reduced to the state, which is "designed" in order to close off the dangers of contingency and unordered, free flowing or circulating power. The very concept of politics thus becomes a guarantor of security, a tool for policing the borders of ordered social interactions. The thought of real conflict (as opposed to the state of nature as a rhetorical strategy, as in Hobbes) is repressed within the order of the state: the institution of sovereign regulation is assumed to have conclusively eliminated the dangers of conflictual, contingent, or non-political life.

Fear of (Liberal) Depoliticization: "The Political Is the Total"

Such a fear of the non-political (the state of nature) reappears, in a reverse form, within various theoretical attempts to define the political: this concept becomes a response to a depoliticization performed within liberal political thought. Schmitt ([1932] 2007), who was among the first to introduce a new understanding of the political (das Politische) into the theoretical discourse of the 20th century (cf. Palonen 2007, 70), situates his attempt at such a reconceptualization as a necessary way of salvaging real politics in "the age of neutralizations and depoliticizations" ([1929] 1993). According to Schmitt, in the 17th century there occurred a shift in Europe from Christian theology to "natural" science. At the core of the shift lay "an elemental impulse that has been decisive for centuries, i.e. the striving for a neutral sphere," a sphere in which there would be no conflict, in which common agreement would be reached through debates and exchange of opinion (137). This trajectory can be traced within liberal narratives of a transition from the conflictual state of nature to the neutral sphere of the political state, which can be interpreted, in Schmitt's terms, as a deliberate depoliticization of reality, as a repression of the essence of the political. In his attempt at lifting this repression, Schmitt explicitly rejects the identification of the state with the political; in response, he not only re-introduces conflict into politics, but posits the "ever present possibility of [war-like] conflict" ([1932] 2007, 32) as the central principle of the political. More specifically, this antagonism is distinguished by the specific political distinction between friend and enemy, which is the "the strongest and most intense of the distinctions and categorizations" (27). Due to its intensity, this political distinction cannot be confined to a limited sphere, but derives its abundant energy from a variety of human activities.

It is remarkable that Schmitt's discourse on the political contains multiple references to political energy that feeds the political distinction, although the source of it is not confined to the formal sphere of state-centred politics. In this respect one can interpret Schmitt's concept of the political in terms of George Bataille's "general economy." Bataille (1988) revises major economic concepts and introduces the concept of "general economy," which is, in a sense, the unconscious of a "restricted" or "rational economy" limited to principles of productive activity and accumulation. General economy considers, contrary to economic science, the heterogeneous "play of living matter in general" and is not limited to a particular domain or utilitarian aim. Such a general play is very similar to what Schmitt suggests about the political: its energy is not restricted to a specific domain; the concept refers to the play of the political distinction in general or, in Bataille's language, to a general economy of the political.

So Schmitt, by exposing the repression of politics in liberalism, suggests an alternative -- the political as general domain. Furthermore, the fear of liberal depoliticization leads to the exclusion of the unpolitical from the political by positing the impossibility of its very being, but paradoxically this happens through an immediate politicization of this question, that is, inclusion of the unpolitical in the political through decision. Schmitt writes that "[w]e have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced" ([1923] 2005, 2) [2]. It is clear for Schmitt that since everything is the political, any decision about something unpolitical is always a political decision; consequently, there can be no unpolitical as such: it is always a political product (and, paradoxically, a part of the very production itself), an illusion or the negative posited for a political purpose. (This, of course, applies to Schmitt himself, whose claim about liberal depoliticization and the search for an authentic politics is then a political gesture par excellence.)

Rethinking Power: The Political Is Everywhere

Similar to Schmitt, Foucault has influenced theorists of the political both as an inspiration and as a point of critical departure, specifically on the point of "everything is political." Foucault's thinking about power and, specifically, his methodological critique of the "system of Law-and-Sovereign" and his critique of the state's "political reason" are of the most interest because it is there that we can trace a tendency similar to the conceptualization of the political. Even though Foucault never used the term itself and, according to Barry Hindess (2005), was not much concerned with how "politics" and related terms should be used, I argue that the logic of the internal split of the notion of politics is present in Foucault's work, specifically in his conception of power [3]. Moreover, because power extends beyond the limited sphere of politics into a general economy of the political, Foucault's conception of power leads to a conclusion similar to that of Schmitt: "everything is political."

Foucault's analyses of power relations and his critique of "political reason," i.e., the reason of the state, both suggest that the political is beyond politics. Even though Foucault's use of the term "political" seems rather conventional -- he uses the term to refer to aspects of the government of a state -- he does not try to endorse or criticize it on the basis of an alternative view, but rather "to investigate and... to criticize a type of reason that, in his view, has been particularly influential in the history of Western societies and that... could well be described as 'political'" (Hindess 2005, 390). This type of reason treats the state as the highest of all forms of community, against which Foucault positions his project "to cut off the King's head" (1980, 121), suggesting that the political cannot be reduced to the operation of state institutions. The political for Foucault appears in the form of reconceptualised power, which, according to Max Weber, is "the lifeblood of politics" (Weber quoted in Brown 2005, 75).

In The History of Sexuality Foucault famously "defines" power in terms of relations of forces, which can be interpreted as the domain of the political, while politics is the result of coding and institutional crystallization of this heterogeneity. Foucault writes that power must be understood, first, "as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization" (1990, 92, my emphasis); second, as a process that includes its own reversal (permanence of struggle, resistance and freedom); third, as an interaction of different relations (e.g., in terms of support) that form a chain or a system; and finally, as "the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies" (92-93, my emphasis). Therefore, what is conventionally called politics is now thought of as an effect and a strategy of representing the political: the "multiplicity of force relations can be coded -- in part but never totally -- either in the form of 'war,' or in the form of 'politics'; this would imply two different strategies (but the one always liable to switch into the other) for integrating these unbalanced, heterogeneous, unstable, and tense force relations" (93). The coding implies an integration of heterogeneity and an ordering of unordered, unstable and unbalanced forces. The political, then, is a realm of contingency and tension, while politics consists of the attempts to tame and represent the former.

To sum up, while the traditional understanding of power is related to a sovereign, a well-defined authority that owns the means of coercion, Foucault understands that power is not a substance that can be owned, conquered or held, but is rather exercised. It is not a property or privilege of the dominant class or any other group, but the overall effect of these strategic positions; it is a network of relations that merges public and private. Relations of power run throughout society; they do not only take place between the citizens and state. Power is omnipresent "because it comes from everywhere"; it is a complex strategic situation within a society. As a result, if the political is "signaled by the presence of any human relations organized by power... then it is inevitable that we would find the political everywhere today" (Brown 2005, 75). Foucault's rethinking of power is what makes such a statement possible.

In Search of an "Authentic" Politics: Post-foundational Political Thought

Within contemporary political theory there are a number of works dedicated to the concept of the political, many of them standing in opposition to each other or taking different approaches. Nevertheless, there are several traits that the majority of these works seem to share. These traits include, first of all, the conceptual split of politics into two interrelated domains of politics and the political according to which the former is defined in terms of a limited, institutionalized sphere of politics and the state and the latter is defined as the domain of contingency and impossibility that can never be fully represented or captured within politics (on this point see as well Marchart 2007). Of course, in these theories the political is deployed in a number of different ways, but what is important, according to Marchart, is that they are held together "by their shared 'relation' towards an absent ground" (4) [4]. A feature that was not immediately present in Schmitt and Foucault, but that becomes prominent in the contemporary debates, is the question of difference, both as a defining principle of the political and as a principle that characterizes the conceptual relationship between politics and the political. It is not enough or even possible to think the political on its own terms; it is necessary to consider its conceptual relationship with politics. As a result, we must speak not of the political, but of "the political difference" -- that endless differentiation and play between politics and the political. It is worth mentioning that the political is seen as something that ruptures, interrupts, punctures the ordered reality of politics or stirs up its sedimented practices, and thus that it is a reactive concept. Marchart calls this cluster of contemporary political theory, which holds such political difference at its core, "post-foundational political thought," where the political stands for the absent ground or, in other terms, quasi-foundation of order characterized by contingency and undecidability. As already mentioned above, Marchart's discussion of the political difference is coloured by the appraisal of its relational character, and does not offer a critical perspective on correlation and the circular self-referentiality of the notion.

Another commonality among contemporary attempts at thinking the political, according to Marchart, is the shared "neutralization or sublimation thesis" (we saw it already in Schmitt) [5], meaning that the conceptualization of the political is a way of asserting the authenticity and primacy of politics against the threat of depoliticization. "According to this thesis, the political becomes increasingly neutralized or colonized by the social... or sublimated into non-political domains.... The primacy of the political is not a triumphant but an endangered primacy -- always in danger of becoming entirely closed up in the 'iron cage' of bureaucratized, technologized, and depoliticized society" (44). I suggest that because of such a fear of the non-political, contemporary theories fall into the same trap as their classical counterparts: they ignore the fact that their visions of the political are primarily inspired by the pressure of what is considered non-political, now understood as the organizing principle of the state. I maintain that such ignorance of the correlative nature of the political is another, commonly under-theorized, trait within post-foundational political theory. In other words, what is ignored here is that the concept of the political, even as it claims its primacy, is always already correlated (and not just related) with the classical notion of politics, and as a result of such a negative "origin," it should be seen as no more than the inverse of the latter. That is, the political, to a large extent, is the effect of structural failure, and, as such, is no more than the reverse of what it undertakes to critique, i.e. the state. As a result, the political and its difference are not sufficient theoretical tools for rethinking politics beyond the state, since due to correlation the political, as negativity, still subsumes its potentiality under the actual principle of the state. In order to develop this argument, examples of such correlation in the works of several post-foundational thinkers will be discussed below.

The Dissociative Political and Its "Pessimistic Anthropology"

Among the various post-foundational attempts at thinking the political one can distinguish "associative" and "dissociative" traits (Marchart 2007, 38-44) [6]. In the former, the emphasis lies on the associative moment of political action. It is important to keep in mind that many contemporary political thinkers stand in a critical opposition not only to classical theories of politics but also to more recent attempts to rethink the essence of politics in the associative register. While the latter embraces an optimistic view of human nature, and thus the collective is seen as an outcome of free association within the public realm, the majority of post-foundational theories conceive of a dissociative aspect or agonism as the (quasi-)ground of collectivity.

The dissociative political was inspired, among others, by Schmitt, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. The political from this perspective incorporates "pessimistic anthropology," which sees the human as "by no means an unproblematic but a dangerous and dynamic being" (Schmitt [1932] 2007, 61). Multiple references to energy and dynamism in regard to the political are reminiscent of the role of the drives and aggression in Freudian psychoanalysis; moreover, the split concept of politics is parallel to the split of the psyche into conscious and unconscious, instituted, but by no means invented, by Freud. For example, in The Interpretation of Dreams Freud distinguishes between the "primary processes" of an unbound energy and the "secondary processes" of bound energy. Furthermore, in a similar manner, while the unconscious is a domain of free-flowing, unbound and formless energy and the drives, consciousness is the domain of reason; it is an "agent" of repression or congestion of the circulation of free forces, which, in their turn, acquire form through such stoppage. The latter's functioning is similar to the repression of the political by politics, that is, congestion or, in Foucault's words, the crystallization of formless tension into an institutional structure, i.e., the order of the state. In the case of both the political and the unconscious, their very existence appears through a (negative) dialectical relationship with their antitheses, and the only way they can manifest themselves is through a stoppage or failure of their opposites, as, for example, the unconscious manifests itself in dreams and parapraxes. The Freudian unconscious, like the political, is not something simply unreasonable or irrational, simply opposed to reason, but rather "a glitch of reason, its slip, its inner torsion" (Dolar 2008, 21). This tension between the structured and the permanent social ties and their undoing indexes a correlation: "the political as a dislocation of the existing social entities, as shifting the ground of what holds the existing relations together" (26).

The implications of Lacanian psychoanalysis for thinking the political are also quite significant, since a number of contemporary theoretical studies of the political are influenced by Lacan's thought (even though not all of them explicitly identify themselves as his followers). In general, "Lacanian political theory" (see, for example, Stavrakakis 1999, 2007, Robinson 2005), like Freudian thought, conceives of socio-political life as a circular play between two major modes, that of politics and the political, where the former corresponds to symbolic reality, and the latter to the void or the real that resists symbolization. Yannis Stavrakakis suggests that the political can be interpreted as "a particular modality of the real" that can be encountered only through a failure of the symbolic: "[i]t is the moment of this failure, the moment of our encounter with the real, that is revealed as the moment of the political par excellence in our reading of Lacan.... It is this traumatic moment... that initiates again and again a process of symbolisation, and initiates the ever-present hegemonic play between different symbolisations of this real [which is politics]" (1999, 73-74). The excess that is the real can be experienced only as lack in the symbolic, and when this schema is applied to the study of politics, it results in the concept of the political difference with its endless differentiation between presence and lack. The attempt to disrupt the movement of the Hegelian dialectic and to displace its centre (the Idea which is realized as the State) ends up constituting a circular movement centred on a negativity, a void, the only reality of which remains its opposite. In this way, the only reality of the political, as absent ground, negativity or void, is the disruption in the functioning of the state. Politics-as-state is as important here as the political. This raises the question of whether it is possible to think the political in relation not just to politics but to another mode of the real or reality that is not defined by the state, that is, by solidified, regulated and institutionalized order.

Chantal Mouffe: The Political as Agonism

Chantal Mouffe (2005) offers a good example of post-foundational political thought that traces its roots to Schmitt as well as to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. In her advocacy of the model of "conflictual consensus," the conceptual distinction between politics and the political plays a crucial role. Mouffe agrees with Schmitt about the "ineradicability of the conflictual dimension in social life" and locates it at the core of the political -- a space of power, conflict and agonism constitutive of human societies. While for Schmitt the specific political agonism is confined to the friend/enemy relation, for Mouffe it extends towards a larger field: the friend/enemy distinction is just one of the possible forms of expression of the agonistic dimension that is constitutive of the political. Furthermore, following Freud, who in Civilization and Its Discontents presents "a view of society as perpetually threatened with disintegration because of the inclination to aggression present in human beings" (25), Mouffe maintains that the political is characterized by the presence of passions. Politics cannot be reduced to the public exercise of reason, as argued by the theorists of consensual democracy like Jürgen Habermas, since such excluding the passions in this way is a sign of a lack of understanding of the political and leads to various non-political conceptions of politics devoid of any real dynamism. Mouffe develops her theory of the political in response to the context of so-called "post-political Zeitgeist" characterized by a withdrawal of an agonistic dimension from the political or by a belief in the possibility of its eventual eradication or pacification (e.g., Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens). In addition to her concern about the post-political spirit of modernity, Mouffe develops her concept of the political in necessary relation to politics, where the latter is defined as "the set of practices and institutions through which an order is created, organizing human coexistence in the context of conflictuality provided by the political" (9). Non-political politics is synonymous with the social, "the realm of sedimented practices... that conceal the originary acts of their contingent political institution" (17). These practices are a constitutive part of any society; they function as a stable framework within which the political dimension of undecidability and contingency manifests itself. As a result, every society is the product of a series of practices attempting to establish order in such a context of contingency. Order and contingency are inseparable realms of social being, as Mouffe puts it: "[t]he social and the political have thus the status of what Heidegger called existentials, i.e. necessary dimensions of any societal life" (17). So, in Mouffe's thought we can see the presence of two domains that are defined in relation to each other: the dynamic political and politics or the social comprised of sedimented practices. The movement of the former stirs up the latter: the dimension of contingency and undecidability pervades any order and "guarantees" the lack of its final ground.

Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy: The Closure of the Political and Its Retreat

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy (1997) as well recognize that the question of the political extends beyond the considerations of politics but also of the philosophical, i.e., political philosophy. They advance the notion of the "re-treat" of the political, which signifies both a withdrawal from the obviousness of the political and a positive retreating of its very essence. This task starts with a recognition of the "closure of the political," the situation of the "total completion of the political in the techno-social" (132). It is in response to such closure that a new way of thinking about the essence of the political becomes possible. In that sense, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy embrace the "sublimation thesis" -- that is, they maintain that in the obviousness of "everything is political," the very specificity of the latter is lost. Their critique particularly addresses the Marxist conception of the political, expressed in the form of the "negation of the purely formal or abstract State in favour of a 'material impregnation by the State of the content of all the non-political spheres'" (114). Such impregnation results in the exclusion of every other area of reference and "the total immanentisation of the political in the social" (115): the political is converted everywhere into a form of "banal management or organisation," which defines the "epoch of the domination of political economy." Against the "obviousness" of the political as the total state that performs merely a housekeeping function, the authors advocate the necessity of re-treating the political. The retreat of the political corresponds to a closure that at the same time opens onto the question of the political proper, or the specific essence of the political. The latter is in no way defined by the empirical reality of politics, but by the "philosophical fact" of "the being-together of men, the zōon politikon ... [that] resists all assignation in empirical factuality" (134). This being-together is qualitative, "good" life, the surplus of the purely social living-together driven by needs and vital necessities. As "transcendental of the polis," being-together is nevertheless "not an organicism, whether that of a harmony or of a communion, nor that of a distribution of functions and differences. But no more is it an anarchy. It is the an-archy of the archè itself" (119), that is, its essence is in the absence of a final ground or foundational principle. As a result, the question of the essence of the political is ontological, opposed to any ontic considerations of politics or the political: for Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy the political, defined by the specificity of a non-organic being-together, is opposed to the political as the totalitarian phenomenon of the materialistic state and the social (i.e., political economy). Such an opposition, as well as the very notion of the re-treat, makes a critique of correlation plausible: the question of the essence of the political arises in response to its totalitarian closure. An opening, in a way, is conditioned by the closure or completion of that political actuality.

A Shift toward the Rarity of Politics: Rancière and Badiou

Among other representatives of post-foundational political thought are Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou. I consider them under a specific category of contemporary political thought because in their works there is an explicit assertion not only of the authenticity and specificity of the political, but also of its rarity. However, such a shift does not exclude the correlation that we observed in other theories: for Rancière politics is always in correlation with the order of the police, and for Badiou a political event always irrupts into the state of the situation as well as makes the excesses of the state power visible.

In Rancière's early works on politics, we encounter familiar motives. For example, the "sublimation thesis" is represented by his critique of politics as "pacifying procedure", "the simple management of the social", and as "the art of suppressing the political" (1995, 11). Politics is a procedure of self-subtraction and self-suppression through its reduction to the social and the elimination of passions; its main task is, paradoxically, depoliticization. This critique of politics as the suppression of the political is replaced, in the later works, by the concept of "the police" that is opposed to "politics proper." Rancière distinguishes between two modes or logics of being-together: one "puts bodies in their place and their role according to their 'properties'" and "distributes the bodies within the space of their visibility or their invisibility", and another "disrupts this harmony through the mere fact of achieving the contingency of the equality" (1999, 27-28). The former is the order of the police, the "partition of the perceptible" whose principle is "absence of a void and of a supplement" (Rancière 2001, Thesis 7), suggesting that it presents itself as the order of complete visibility where everything is accounted for, where nothing escapes. The police is the set of procedures through which consent in society is achieved; it is the system of distribution of parts and, simultaneously, of the legitimization of such distribution. Politics has another logic: Rancière defines it as an activity "antagonistic" to policing (1999, 29), as acting on the police; it becomes manifest precisely as a disruption of the latter. It is referred to in terms of a break, undoing, disruption and inscription; it is bound up with police; it "runs up against the police everywhere" (31). Since there is no specific political object or issue, politics exists only as an act of inscription of "the apolitical structural vacuum of equality between anyone and everyone" (34) into the heart of the police order. Furthermore, "[p]olitics occurs when there is a place and a way for two heterogeneous processes [i.e. the police process and the process of equality] to meet" (30). As a result, it is a space of dissensus or, to be more precise, the very staging of such dissensus, the meeting place of the heterogeneous logics of police and equality. "The principal function of politics is the configuration of its proper space.... The essence of politics is the manifestation of dissensus, as the presence of two worlds in one" (Rancière 2001, Thesis 8). One world is that of police, with its practices of emplacement and discipline; another world is that of the equality of any speaking being with any other speaking being [7]. These worlds are in endless relation with each other, since, as Rancière maintains, order always succeeds the interruption of politics, that is, re-ordering. As a result of order always already being there, politics emerges only in correlation to it, as a disruption, as a re-partition of the perceptible, made possible by the inscription of a supplement, "of a part of those who have no part," that becomes visible through the assumption of radical equality (but precisely in this way marking the impossibility of that equality in the police order).

It is important to remember in this regard that Rancière is highly critical of the "everything is political" thesis, which he associates with the Foucauldian equation of politics and power. For Rancière, the political re-partition of order is a rare occasion, while it seems that the police assume a more or less omnipresent, but not necessarily negative, role in his system -- everything is the police unless it is politics, which is rare. In a manner similar to the above-mentioned theorists, Rancière advocates "proper" politics in opposition to the police, and the place of this principle of correlation at the core of his political thinking leaves him, as many others, blind to or ignorant of a possibility of the "third" mode of being-together that is neither a harmonious order of police, nor a contingent, disruptive reality of politics and equality. Even though Rancière acknowledges the apolitical principle of equality (as the condition of politics) and the excess or supplement (as a part of those who have no part), he suggests that it eventually is incorporated into the order to gain its voice as the declaration of its absence. However it might seem that Rancière elaborates on the structure of police and politics in neutral, non-prescriptive terms, I would like to suggest that because he views the unpolitical position only negatively, as that of silent suffering and injustice (the domain of phonè), this implies the necessity and positivity of its inscription into the order of logos by means of politicization or the political action of the re-partition of the perceptible. The political task lies in the inscription of what is excluded or not-counted. In this sense, Rancière's thinking about politics is a project that finds a way of theoretically or conceptually expressing the possibility of the excluded, i.e. "political subjects," to partake in being-together through politics. As Rancière puts it, subjects in politics are "fluctuating performers" who "bring the nonrelationship into relationship and give place to nonplace" (1999, 89). What points at the correlation here is that the very concept of politics prescribes that the nonrelation has to transform into relation and nonplace has to find its place, that is, to become ordered. Rancière does not seem to envision a reality beyond the correlation of politics and the police that would sustain the "nonrelational" and "nonplace" in positive terms.

Badiou's political thought is distinguished by its more positive content, meaning that he wants to think of politics not as a certain (withdrawing, re-treating, or simply assumed) negativity that actually can never be manifest in action (thus his critique of Rancière's "apoliticism," that is, lack of prescription for action in his theory of politics), but as a militant involvement with the Real [8]. Badiou is critical of political philosophy defined as the programme "which, holding ... the political as an objective datum, or even invariant, of universal experience, accords philosophy the task of thinking it" (2006, 10). However, regardless of Badiou's attempt to think of politics positively, his critique of political philosophy mostly remains within the scope of the "sublimation thesis," meaning that he still defines politics, at least partially, in relation to what it is not [9]. To clarify, Badiou's use of "politics" and "the political" in Metapolitics is opposite to other thinkers of the political: he reverses the meaning of the terms. As Marchart puts it, "Badiou relates the category of the political (le politique) precisely to 'traditional' political philosophy, while retaining the category of politics (la politique) for his own intellectual enterprise" (2007, 111). Thus, the political acquires the sense of what is usually signified by politics -- the public exercise of free judgement; politics is conceived as thought, thus in no need of philosophical mediation. Badiou's "metapolitics," as the opposite of political philosophy, seeks to politicize philosophical practice. Philosophy does not have an immediate access to the truth of politics; on the contrary, it operates on the basis of truths produced by the real instances of politics as thought. As a result, Badiou shifts from the universality of the philosophical political toward the singularity of politics, further defined as "truth procedure." The excessive dimension of the event prescribes the task for politics as militant action and truth procedure: to bring about an event through subjective intervention, that is, in the face of undecidability to decide on its belonging to the situation, to produce its truth through the struggle of naming the unnameable and to remain faithful to this truth.

In Metapolitics Badiou distinguishes three conditions under which an event can be said to be political: first, its material is collective, or it provides "the vehicle for a virtual summoning of all"; second, it presents, "summons or exhibits the infinity of the situation"; and third, it "puts the State at a distance" (2006, 141-45). The last condition is the most interesting to us since it presents a case of correlation: for Badiou, politics is, in part, defined through its relation to the state of the situation and, more particularly, the State. Badiou maintains that every situation has a state: "the operation which, within the situation, codifies its parts or subsets" (143) through counting, whose necessity "results from the need to exclude any presentation of the void in the situation" (2005, 522). In a similar manner, the State is the enslavement of the parts of the situation, which is possible because its power is measureless and nonassignable. In response to such domination, the political event and the truth procedure that it sets off, i.e., politics, "fixes the errancy and assigns a measure to the superpower of the State" (2006, 145); it interrupts the normal functioning of this power by assigning a visible measure to its excess. In this way, politics, as truth procedure, first of all reveals the discursive inconsistency of the regular social statements and "in so doing pierces through the commonsense fabric of the existing state of the situation" and extends the latter beyond its limits (Barker 2006, xv). This short sketch of Badiou's vision of politics shows that even though he acknowledges the necessity of moving beyond the state in thinking about politics, he still defines it, as well as its "origin" (the political event), in relation to the state. In a manner similar to the other thinkers examined in this essay, the discourse of politics and its event is that of summoning and fixing, of the piercing, interruption and transformation of the state of the situation and its power.

Correlation and the Question of the Unpolitical

As suggested above, contemporary thought on the political oscillates around the correlation between politics and the political. It is of the most importance that the reality of politics and the political always already relate to each other, and this relation is the political itself. These concepts appear mostly as mere negatives of each other, meaning that the political emerges at the moment of structural failure, i.e., the failure of politics-as-state, while politics refers to the installation or restoration of order against the contingent and agonistic horizon of the political through its repression or suppression. Furthermore, the correlative play of the political difference tends towards totalization, overdetermining every position and mode of being such that conceptual distinction leads to a situation where everything can be conceived or understood in terms of politics (i.e. system of state and law, sedimented or codified practices, public debate, the police, state of the situation, etc), the political (force relations, war, conflict, agonism, event, etc) and their relation (play, interruption, rupture, puncture, etc.), thus seemingly not allowing for genuine excess or a third mode of being-together, that is, an element that is not or cannot be politicized. The political difference, as a self-referential concept, drifts back to the reality of "everything is political," not in terms of the total state, but as the quasi-ground of everything. In the words of Marchart, "everything is political in the sense of being irresolvably subverted by the instituting/destituting moment of the political," that is, "the ground/abyss of everything is the political" (2007, 173). This conclusion raises the question of whether there is an outside to the play of political difference, i.e., the unpolitical, and what is its place in relation to the latter. The thinkers discussed above mostly focus their attention on the relation between politics and the political and thus do not provide an answer to this question. Unfortunately, the unpolitical does not seems to be present in Freudian and Lacanian political theory, nor in Mouffe's and Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe's discussions of the conceptual distinction between politics and the political [10]. However, there is a sense of the unpolitical at work in Schmitt, Foucault, Rancière and Badiou, which opens up further discussion [11].

I would like to suggest that the role in which the unpolitical is present in Schmitt's thought of the political is that of exception. The logic of the latter is twofold: an exception is a side effect of the institution of rule, that which falls outside of it, but at the same time it is that which conditions the rule; that is, through the very proclamation of its otherness it establishes a norm and its homogeneous space. A similar logic is present in Schmitt's discussion of political decision: he suggests that any decision on the unpolitical is a political decision, which means that the unpolitical is a product of sovereignty. The unpolitical is an exception since it always results from a political decision; it is brought into existence after and through the political, and at the same time it functions as a negative against which genuine politics, i.e. the political, is defined [12].

Among other potential examples of "the unpolitical" is Foucault's "prediscursive" (2002, 85). Since power operates through discourse -- the field of operation of a multiplicity of statements in a regular manner -- its institutional crystallization, its regularity, has to be discursive as well, resulting in the political difference as a discursive "totality." However, Foucault acknowledges "pre-discursive relations" (85) and "non-discursive domains" (179). His description of the former is similar to Schmitt's view of the unpolitical, which is unpolitical as long as it is a part of a political decision: the prediscursive "is an immense density of systematicities, a tight group of multiple relations" that are by nature not foreign to discourse and "can certainly be qualified as 'prediscursive', but only if one admits that this prediscursive is still discursive, that is... that they characterize certain levels of discourse, that they define rules that are embodied as a particular practice by discourse" (85).

Another possible example of the unpolitical at work is Rancière's "apolitical vacuum of equality" (1999, 34). Here the unpolitical is a heterogeneous but empty principle that can be placed outside of the political difference. In Rancière's words, equality is "not peculiar to [politics] and is in no way in itself political. All equality does is lend politics reality in the form of specific cases to inscribe" (31-32). Furthermore, "for there to be politics, the apolitical structural vacuum of equality between anyone and everyone must produce the structural vacuum of a political property" (34). It might be suggested that the logic of equality in Rancière is unpolitical, since it is heterogeneous not only to the order of the police or any given partition of the perceptible, but also to politics. Nevertheless, equality is a principle that functions in relation to politics, since it has to be inscribed, that is, politicized in order to reveal itself. As Michael Dillon (2005) suggests, the principle of equality is (im)possible -- it disappears as soon as it is inscribed as order -- and so in a certain sense it can be seen as (un)political, and reminiscent of Schmitt's unpolitical and Foucault's prediscursive.

Badiou's "non-statist situation" is also of particular interest in a discussion of the unpolitical. Badiou suggests that every situation has its state, and as a result of the excess of its power (i.e. repression) "time without politics" is characterized by "resignation" (2006, 145). However, a political event requires intervention, which raises the question of how such intervention becomes possible if non-political time would be only that of resignation. It appears that the elements of the situation that exceed the state make an intervention possible in a "different" time. This time without politics, but also without resignation, can be seen as "pre-political" or "pre-evental" time that precedes an event (see, for example, Calcagno 2007, Srnicek 2008).

The question that remains open in regard to all of these accounts is whether the unpolitical exceeds the political correlation or whether it has only the transitional nature of an exception, i.e., a condition that can never be presented unless politicized, and thus as a condition that only strengthens the correlation instead of extending beyond it. This brief discussion of the unpolitical at work was not intended to give an exhaustive account but merely to provide a sketch that aims to open up the thought of the unpolitical, to raise the problem of the unpolitical, of a possibility of thinking a reality or mode of being-together beyond the conceptual limbo of the political difference. I believe that in the end the unpolitical can be a better way of thinking and understanding some recent phenomena that the correlative thought of the political has difficulty accounting for, e.g., the massive self-generated political abjections of modernity -- refugees, the stateless and the displaced.


[1] My critique of correlation is partially inspired by Quentin Meillasoux, who initially advances his thesis on the necessity of contingency and speculative realism on the basis of his critique of correlationism: "the central notion of modern philosophy since Kant seems to be that of correlation. By 'correlation' we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined. Consequently, it becomes possible to say that every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant of correlationism." Also, "Generally speaking, the modern philosopher's 'two-step' consists in this belief in the primacy of the relation over the related terms; a belief in the constructive power of reciprocal relation. The 'co-' (of co-givenness, of co-relation, of the co-originary, of co-presence) is the grammatical particle that dominates modern philosophy" (2008, 5).

[2] Giorgio Agamben returns to this point in Homo Sacer: "This is the ultimate meaning of the Schmittian thesis that the principle of Fuhrung [leadership] is 'a concept of the immediate present and of real presence'.... And this is why Schmitt can affirm, without contradiction: 'It is general knowledge among the contemporary German political generation that precisely the decision concerning whether a fact or a kind of thing is apolitical is a specifically political decision'.... Politics is now literally the decision concerning the unpolitical (that is, concerning bare life)" (1998, 173).

[3] In his works Foucault often conflates the notions of power and politics, thus his interchangeable use of the terms "biopolitics" and "biopower." Nevertheless, on rare occasions it is possible to distinguish these terms, as, for example, based on his discussion of power in The History of Sexuality. Here Foucault suggests that power as the multiplicity of force relations can be "codified" in the form of politics (93), i.e. the system of state law, suggesting that the concept of power and politics are distinct. However, this conceptual distinction is not immediately present in Foucault's other works, which suggests that within the biopolitical horizon that he outlines this distinction is either not possible or simply irrelevant.

It is worth noting that Jacques Rancière (1999, 2001) criticizes such a conflation of politics and power precisely for its consequence -- "everything is political." Even though his critique is valid, he does not manage to escape a correlational rethinking of politics. That is, while addressing the conceptual conflation of politics and power that haunts Foucault's thought, he does not seem to free his own thought of the political from its correlation with politics. I will return to this argument in more detail later.

[4] An "absent ground" points to the Heideggerian legacy of post-foundational political thought. It is the ground that recedes or withdraws and thus cannot be present or realized as the final ground of politics. Nevertheless, it is present as absence and withdrawal, meaning that even though it rejects the ground it does not preclude grounding. The latter points at the process of the endless becoming of the political that never fully comes into being as politics, but conditions politics in its very failure. For more detailed discussion see Oliver Marchart's "Introduction: On the Absent Ground of the Social," in Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau (2007).

[5] It would be interesting to look at this thesis through the prism of Foucault's critique of the "repressive hypothesis," where "the political" would occupy a role similar to that of sexuality.

[6] In a similar manner, Schmitt notes that various theories of politics are based either on anthropological optimism or pessimism. While in the former case humans are seen as beings driven towards consensus and agreement with each other, Schmitt asserts that "all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil, i.e. by no means an unproblematic but a dangerous and dynamic being" ([1932] 2007, 61), that is, they embrace pessimistic anthropology.

[7] By referring to the equality of any speaking being with any other speaking being, Rancière points to and subsequently challenges the partition of the perceptible (policing) based on the Aristotelian distinction between logos and phonè. Here logos refers to "the articulate language appropriate for manifesting a community in the aisthesis of the just and the unjust," and it is opposed to the animal phonè, "appropriate only for expressing the feelings of pleasure and displeasure" (Rancière 2001, Thesis 8). The problem with this distinction arises, as Rancière points out, when one has to decide what counts as human logos and as animal phonè, resulting in the political inclusion and exclusion respectively. The presupposition of equality of all speaking beings in their immediate access to logos as the ability to understand each other challenges the neutrality of Aristotelian distinction and provides the principle (equality) for politics.

[8] The widely acknowledged influence of Lacanian psychoanalysis on Badiou's thought is apparent here.

[9] Badiou accuses Rancière of such 'negativism,' saying that one gets out of Disagreement an idea of what politics is not, but not a positive conception that would be an incitement for an action (see Badiou 2006, 107-123). Even though Badiou tries to fill the concept of politics with positivity, it is worth remembering that his rejection of apolitical politics is a point of departure of his own thought.

[10] It would certainly be possible to go beyond their discussions of the conceptual relation between politics and the political in search of something like the unpolitical at work. In this regard, for example, one could consider Mouffe's elaboration, in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (1999, 44), on the fluidity of relation between "us" and "them," where the latter are always already a part of the former. However successful one may be in this undertaking, I believe it is important to remember that, due to correlation, the unpolitical still will be confined to the conceptual schema of the political difference, to the initial system of coordinates that would not let the unpolitical manifest itself as such, without being politicized.

[11] A classical example of the unpolitical is Hobbes' "state of nature," that is, the reality that is presumed to exceed and condition politics, the domain of the state and sovereign. As mentioned above, this reality is considered by Hobbes as apolitical, but in contemporary theories of the political it is incorporated as the core of the authentic politics, i.e., the political. As such, the state of nature can no longer be seen as excess of the political difference, since it is viewed, in a way, as the very essence of the latter.

[12] Agamben's Homo Sacer, which fell outside of the attention of this essay, is an examination of bare life (life stripped of any political quality, abandoned life) as the unpolitical based on the Schmittian logic of exception. "Politics is now literally the decision concerning the unpolitical (that is, concerning bare life)" (1998, 173).

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Inna Viriasova is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario. Her current work offers a critique of the concept of the political and explores the advent of "the unpolitical" in contemporary critical political theory. Her scholarly interests include political ontology, French and Italian political thought, problems of displacement and national identity, and critiques of neo-liberalism.

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